National charity Headway launched the Brain Injury Identity Card in summer 2017 as part of its Justice Project, which aims to raise awareness of brain injury and its effects throughout the criminal justice system.

It is designed to ensure that survivors receive appropriate support, amid overwhelming evidence that a significant proportion of the prison population have sustained a brain injury.

In addition, it also widely accepted that many survivors are frequently victims of social injustice as they go about their daily lives.

Brain injuries can cause problems with memory, concentration, information processing, communication as well as emotions and behaviour.

For many, however, the effects of their brain injury are largely unseen or misunderstood. This lack of understanding can cause social barriers for people to overcome, while leading some into contact with the criminal justice system.

The ID card helps police officers easily identify brain injury survivors and ensure that they receive an appropriate response and support. The inclusion of the official logo of the National Police Chief’s Council gives the card credibility with officers on the ground.

Each card is personalised, helping the card holder to explain the specific effects of their brain injury and request any help they may need.

Presentation of this card to an arresting officer or custody sergeant should result in the card holder being treated as a vulnerable adult, offered the support of an appropriate adult and referred to Liaison and Diversion staff.

The card displays the number of a unique 24-hour criminal legal helpline number that provides access to specialist solicitors trained in understanding brain injury.

The scheme has the full support of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Police Scotland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Liaison and Diversion and the National Appropriate Adult Network.

Police officers have welcomed this initiative because it enables them to differentiate when they are dealing with a vulnerable adult rather than someone who is setting out to be difficult, aggressive or obstructive. They believe this will save time and scarce resources at a time when the police service is fully stretched.

Among brain injury survivors it has also been well received. And feedback received by Headway from card carriers suggests that the scheme has a positive effect in many ways beyond simply alerting the police to their personal circumstances. Recent comments include:

“I was in B&Q and was struggling how to explain what I needed. The assistant saw my ID card and took his time with me.”

“It makes me feel safer and more confident if I run into difficulties.”

“One of our service users was refused a taxi as the driver assumed he was drunk. He showed his card and the taxi driver apologised and took him home.”

See the next edition of NR Times, out in March 2019, for more on the issue of brain injuries in the criminal justice system. Click here for more on the ID card scheme.